From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

West Central neighborhood’s St. Joseph Parish: an older parish with a clear ‘sense of mission’

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the May 24, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Is St. Joseph Church on Dean Street, in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood, one of the diocese’s “best-kept secrets?” At least one former parishioner thinks so. If it’s a secret, it’s well-kept, since this gem of a church is 111 years old.

The parish can trace its heritage back to those early Jesuit missionaries who ministered in the Pacific Northwest in the 1800s. The first parish administrator was Jesuit Father Leopold Van Gorp, who served from 1888-1890. At the request of Bishop Aegidius Junger of the Nesqually Diocese (later the Seattle Diocese) Jesuit Father Joseph Cataldo bought the lots for St. Joseph Church in 1888 and 1889. He is the one who built the first church in 1890. The day after its dedication, the Jesuits transferred their ownership of the parish to the Nesqually Diocese.

Father Emile Kauten, who also served Our Lady of Lourdes downtown, was parish administrator at St. Joseph, and in 1893, his assistant, Father John DeKanter of Holland, was assigned as resident pastor. He served for 25 years, and was the one responsible for building the brick church. A vacation to his homeland in 1916 ended his service in the parish. World War I started while he was in Europe and he was unable to return until 1919. In 1918, Father William Metz was named as his replacement.

The first St. Joseph church, which looked more like a house, was located to the east of the present church. The second church, of classic brick style with traditional steeple and stained glass windows, was built in 1903 and is little changed from that time. Parish life then was typical, with parishioners committed to their church and to providing a Catholic education for their children. A school was built and also a convent for the School Sisters of Notre Dame who taught at the school. In May 1969, the school was closed and St. Joseph parishioners joined forces with St. Anthony Parish, a little further northeast, to form Trinity School, utilizing the school building at St. Anthony.

While the church looks much the same to all outward appearances, the elegant interior reflects the changes that have occurred in worship space since the Second Vatican Council. In 1998, parishioners remodeled their church, bringing the altar forward and repainting. The sanctuary has a gleaming hardwood floor, and a beautiful green “miracle” carpeting for the rest of the floor, which also covers the seats of the pews, gives a restful, calm look to the whole interior. The “miracle” came during the remodeling when parish funds were used up and there was no money left to buy the carpet. An anonymous donor, who showed up right at that time, contributed the money to pay for it.

But the parish experienced a different kind of change in 1983, when, after much discussion, Bishop Lawrence Welsh announced it would be governed by a pastoral team. Holy Names Sister Carol Lee was named pastoral administrator and Father Thomas Wilson was the sacramental minister. According to the parish history, compiled when St. Joseph celebrated its centennial, some parishioners were opposed to the idea and had trouble adjusting. However, Sister Carol had been a teacher and a member of the pastoral team at St. Patrick Parish in Spokane and in her capable hands, the parish became a stronger, more cohesive worshipping community. One simple action that boosted parish fellowship was to serve coffee and doughnuts after Sunday Masses.

St. Joseph parishioners know what it means to live the Gospel. The mostly retired and working class people who make up the congregation have a tradition of welcoming newcomers. In 1989, St. Joseph Church became the home of the Spokane-area’s Hispanic community, under the leadership of Deacon Gonzalo Martinez. About 200 people meet there each Sunday after the English Masses for religious education and a Hispanic Mass. Deacon Martinez said an effort is underway to help the Hispanic community register as parishioners. Future plans call for further interaction with their host parish.

There are a large number of Russians in the community and nearly a dozen Holy Names Sisters who call St. Joseph home.

The parishioners also have a long tradition of helping the poor, which has become even more important with the changes that have taken place in their part of the Spokane Diocese. The church is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Spokane, and there are large populations of low-income elderly and transients.

One of the parish’s deepest commitments is to Our Place, an ecumenical venture with other denominations in the neighborhood to help the poor in their midst. On the fourth Sunday of each month, parishioners bring food items to Mass to be donated to Our Place, which gives the food as well as clothes and other items to those in need. The parish also gives a monthly contribution to Our Place, and a number of parishioners are volunteers.

Holy Names Sister Mary Ann Farley, who came to the parish about three years ago, appreciates her parish’s interest in social justice. She said a social concerns committee frequently polls all parishioners as to the issues they will discuss and work on. “Domestic violence was chosen and also affordable housing,” she said.

The parish continues to be administered by a pastoral team. Holy Names Sister Ann Pizelo followed Sister Carol. Holy Names Sister Irene Knopes now has served in the post for nine months. Father Mark Pautler is the sacramental minister. He was first assigned to the parish in 1985, took a two-year leave to attend school, returning in 1987. He has been there since.

Some parishioners appreciate the witness of the pastoral team, which, said one, is a “beautiful modeling and a real gift to church.” Tim Marzen, who joined the parish almost two years ago, said, “It’s nice to see a man and woman working together to lead a congregation.”

Parishioner Barbara McBride said having the Sisters (on the pastoral team) “has worked out well. It’s a good combination.”

As a newcomer from a much larger parish, Marzen also commented on the “sense of mission” evident in St. Joseph Parish and how everyone has a place in it. “In a small parish, you are expected to do your part. And you are missed when you’re not there.”

To talk to long-time parishioners is to discover that they simply couldn’t worship elsewhere. That sentiment was expressed by Carol Bosch: “It’s home. The parishioners are very caring, and I wouldn’t hesitate a second to ask any of them for help.”

“It’s a great parish,” said McBride. “I feel lucky to be here.”

Snapshots of St. Joseph history

  • Father Terence Tully, a retired priest of the Spokane Diocese and regular contributor to the Inland Register, grew up in St. Joseph Parish. He served his native parish as an assistant from 1950-1956 at the same time he was editor of this newspaper.
  • In 1988 John Amrhein installed magnets on the kneelers of the pews. Until then the kneelers were occasionally prone to fall on parishioners’ feet and shins.
  • The School Sisters of Notre Dame who taught at the school lived in a three-story convent until a fire destroyed the top story. Then they made do with a two-story convent. The building is now used as a parish center.
  • The parish history tells how the pastors and congregation battled constant debt, and how they were finally able to get free of financial obligations. Selling the former auditorium helped stabilize finances, and St. Mary Parish in the Valley “adopted” St. Joseph to lend a helping hand, financially and otherwise.
  • Msgr. John Fahy served the parish the longest — from 1933 to 1969. When Catholic Charities built low-income housing units in the neighborhood, they were named for the monsignor: Fahy Gardens to the east, and Fahy West.

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